I strongly feel that Trey Burke, the second year point guard of the Utah Jazz, is on the right path. The league continues to change form, and the wing-dominated era has persisted since the removal of the hand-check rule. If your point guard isn't a super freak athlete (John Wall, Derrick Rose, Russell Westbrook), or defensive wizard (Rajon Rondo), he has to be able to knock down the open jumper (Kyle Lowry, Stephen Curry). Or even in the case where your team has an athlete or defender, hitting from deep is always a way to help your squad. It is almost a requirement for success now. Having watched Burke up close at Michigan for two years I felt as though that he would be capable of doing just that. Alfonso the Third shot 38% from outside in his last year of NCAA ball, and has a natural shooting stroke. We've seen him hit big shots from deep. So it was a surprise for me to see the lotto pick shoot so poorly last season (.380 from the field, and .330 from deep).
But that was last season. His rookie season. I was quick to think of excuses for the poor shooting. Shooting was one of his strengths, after all. Sure, he did not descend from some legendary Dell Curry bloodline, but this was a young man who had made a name for himself off of his ability to make jumpers. This season he was to rectify a season long slump, no doubt influenced by the fact that he had to get hand surgery on his shooting hand last October.
So today, 38 games into the season he is shooting .379 and .311 from the field and from distance respectively. These numbers are smaller numbers than his rookie year. It's funny that I recently wrote about how hot he was shooting in a small sample size, where shooting like Kenny Anderson was viewed as a numerical improvement. So how do I figure he is shooting better? Well, for one I watch the games so I see the shots he takes. Secondly, I pour over the statistics. And third, I have access to the professional scouting suite of data and video that is managed by Synergy Sports Tech. And yes, Trey Burke is shooting better. But not how you think he is.
For me it has to start with the threes. I see him missing a lot of threes. The majority of the threes that I see him miss that stick out in my mind are not threes where he goes into Mo Williams (aka #52) hero mode, or where he tries to shoot off the bounce, or freed up by a screen. The shots I remember him missing are the open ones. These are the shots that Quin Snyder's offense produces. These are the shots that he would be breaking the plays by not taking. And honestly, these are precisely the shots the was DRILLIN' in preseason. (It was only a few months ago where he shot .481 fg% and .533 3pt%, and gave many of us hope.)
So let's look at his threes.
More of his shots are threes (barely), but he's just not performing as well. The possessions that are threes have gone up from 4.27 to 4.42 per game. But he's shooting about 3% worse by FG% (and N.B. in the case where all the shots are threes, this is really 3PT%), and over 4% worse by aFG% (This is a Synergy Sports stat. This is not TS% or me writing eFG% incorrectly). So . . . the big question is how and why is he shooting worse this season, especially after torching teams in preseason?
For me the best shot in basketball is the open shot. If there is no one defending you, and you are within range, it's much easier to succeed. Quin Snyder's offense takes a lot from the San Antonio Spurs where so much is predicated upon floor spacing and dribble penetration. The idea is to move the defense around, make one or more players commit, and to swing the ball around and find that idea, 'best' shot. The open shot. Looking at how Trey shoots his spot ups will tell us more.
Okay, so this is very interesting because he is frankly BETTER than he was last year at spot up jumpers. He moved from being "good" (based upon NBA rank) to being "very good". He's nearly shooting 40% from spot ups -- this is no where near the Kyle Korver percentage (51.2%, for those who were asking). But it's still very good compared to the rest of the league. Is there a difference between if he purely catches and shoots, or are his spot ups affected by close outs, and force him to dribble?
This is encouraging. While his catch-and-shoot numbers are down, they are down by such a small value -- but -- when he is in rhythm and off the bounce he is absolutely deadly.
So what do we know? The spot up shot is much easier than one you get in isolation, or in the pick and roll. We also know that Trey is shooting worse this year, particularly from deep. He is shooting better this year on Spot ups, therefore not all of his spot ups are threes. But within the realm of Spot Up jumpers, he is killing it in the way he did back as a big man on campus at Michigan. He's doing it off the bounce.
But there's more info to be found. So when he dribbles things are okay. But when he doesn't, somehow he is worse. This tracks with the eye-ball test, and what misses of his I remember for longer.
We need to go deeper....
We saw the boring period of NBA basketball where you dump it into a bigman, and then pass it around for an open jumper back in the 90s, and 2000s. Some point guards made their life by being able to hit shots off of post up ball reversals. Is Trey doing this?
Not really. But he's only doing this type of play once a week, at best.
Some point guards spot up when a wing (Gordon Hayward anyone?) goes into pick and roll mode, or in the case of the Jazz, maybe even another guard (Dante Exum, Alec Burks). Is Trey making people pay this way?
YES! THIS WORKS and Validated the 2-PG theory!
So this is something we have to think about. The defense, inherently, has to commit and rotation. The confusion is supposed to get people open jumpers. It's working, and Trey's NBA rank is up, and his rating for this play has gone from "Below Average" to "Very Good".
Another way players get open is during a star player going Iso. Gordon Hayward has taken up this role for the Jazz and has been drawing in a lot of defense. Surely here Trey is showing up?
Ay, yi, yi . . . .
I am willing to chalk this up to such a small sample size. It's not even large enough for Trey to get an NBA Rank or value rating. In fact when you look at the plays, Burke is involved in getting the ball off of an Isolation by Hayward, but then he moves the ball around after he himself draws a defender in. But still, he's really shooting poorly from this, going 1/7 is just not good enough.
How about just general spot up shooting when the defense is normally engaged?
Okay, so he's getting this shot off more, and he is barely shooting worse. He drops down from Excellent to Very Good, and while that's no good, at least it's not in the "Below Average" or "Poor" range like the previous play types.
So what's the take-away here? He's not proficient to the catch-and-shoot this year. And he's not doing well getting the ball on spot ups out of the post, or off isolations, or just general man-to-man action. He's nice off the bounce, and nice off of pick and roll plays. (Note, he's not setting the pick in this pick and roll. This is a situation where a big sets a screen for a ball handler, and the ball handler drives into the paint drawing in defense, and then he passes out to Trey for a good shot. This is a Spursian design, and it is working.)
Is Trey returning to his Michigan form, in this regard?
Well, he looks better as a spot up finisher when he gets the ball with 4 seconds or less. So, maybe? Going from "Average" to "Very good" is a good sign for me. But is there not an easier way to break this down?
It seems like Trey is making the higher pressure shots, and with less of a crisis he seems to miss more. Again, I remember him missing the wide open shots more than I remember him missing shots that are bad / contested / #MOLO shots.
Yeeeeahh, I think we see the problem here.
In the half-court sets the Jazz run, when they do run their offense (one which is predicated upon ball movement, dribble penetration, and finding the open shot) they can look great. Sadly, for Trey, he is getting a number of ungraded shots every game (nearly 1.5 FGA a game), but he is just not hitting these shots. He's "Below Average" at this despite being "Good" last season at the same thing. On the flip side, Burke is Mr. Bigshot in the making as he makes quite a bit of his guarded half court shots.
And at the end of the day, this is how I think Trey is on the right path -- and shooting better this year. His numbers are down, but he's better at the harder shots than he was. And he is better at the system shots that Quin's playbook has that Tyrone Corbin's did not. The bad news is that Trey is missing the easiest, open shots.
He's not going to miss these open shots forever. After all, he is a natural shooter and is demonstrating his natural shooting abilities by being a better shooter in spot up situations (0.95 PPP last year to 1.06 PPP, or a 52% rank to 70%). Once his open jumpers start to fall (and in the last month we've seen a lot of them rim out, instead of falling in) his numbers will be more reflective of his shooting improvements.
This isn't some voodoo, this is just a point that he played 70 games last year, and he has only played 38 games this year. Last year he ended the season on a tear, and it appear as though Burke is going to be doing the same thing this season. We shouldn't be surprised, this is what Gordon Hayward did in each of his first three seasons as a Jazzman, remember?
Trey is a big time / big play shooter. He appears unfazed by certain situation and is more deadly off the bounce and with time running out. He is becomming better at being a spot up shooter while surrendering the middle of the floor to someone else, be it Gordon Hayward, or Dante Exum, or in smaller doses, Alec Burks. Burke is just shooting worse overall, but from the shots we want him to take -- the clear point is that he's just simply missing the ones he will make in the future.
Quin Snyder is a smart guy and devised an inventive and tactically superior offense. One that requires players to take the open shot, especially from deep. Trey is doing exactly that, and with more time and more shots over the next few months, we'll see him make a greater number of the open ones.
That makes Trey look better. That makes Quin look smarter. And will help the Jazz play more competitive ball. Trey is shooting better, even if he is missing the easy ones right now. Similarly, the Utah Jazz are playing better this year, even if they don't have a winning record. And that's how Trey is shooting a lower %, but still on the right path.
Thanks to SB Nation for believing in me and giving me access to Synergy Sports. I hope to use it in the future to continue to provide evidence for my crazy, hair brained theories about the NBA. Content is the currency of SLC Dunk, and Synergy helps me spread the riches to the community.